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Joe Flacco must play like top QB for Ravens to repeat

Joe Flacco is paid like a top-five NFL quarterback, and he'll have to play like one during the regular season if the Baltimore Ravens have any chance of repeating as Super Bowl champions.

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The season-ending hip injury to tight end Dennis Pitta puts pressure on Flacco to carry a deeply flawed group of receivers and tight ends. Flacco showed in the playoffs last season that he can carry an offense for four straight weeks. But, in his five-year career, he has yet to show he can play at that level for an entire season.

Flacco is a very good starter during the regular season, but he hasn't been great. He has finished in the top 10 in yards per attempt once. The top-shelf quarterbacks are there every year. They don't have the peaks and valleys in play that Flacco often does.

Perhaps it's not fair to compare Flacco to Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees or Peyton Manning. But that's the company Flacco is now keeping financially; the pacesetters at the quarterback position. All of those quarterbacks routinely make the players around them much better.

Every receiver Rodgers plays with winds up getting paid. Brees turns guys like Lance Moore into local legends. So many wideouts, from David Givens to Jabar Gaffney, had their best years with Brady.

Flacco needs to lift up what already was a suspect group of pass-catchers in Baltimore. Torrey Smith is a fantastic deep threat, but the wideouts are very shaky after that. Jacoby Jones is overmatched as a starter. The No. 3 wide receiver job is wide open and has no proven candidates.

Pitta was the odds-on favorite to lead the Ravens in targets and finish second to Smith in receiving yards. Now tight end Ed Dickson will have to stay healthy and produce like he never has before. Receivers like Aaron Mallette, Deonte Thompson and Tandon Doss will have to step up. And it's Flacco's job to help them.

The Ravens signed veteran tight end Visanthe Shiancoe to help out, but Anquan Boldin isn't walking through that door. It's Flacco's time to make chicken salad out of some shaky ingredients.

Flacco's challenge: Win a Super Bowl MVP award, and then get better.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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